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ASU Football: Eno Benjamin surprisingly released by Arizona Cardinals

Storybook career takes a surprising plot twist

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Things were not supposed to end this way with Eno Benjamin and the Arizona Cardinals.

Not much unifies the NFL world today. From fans to owners to media members to Twitter pundits and armchair quarterbacks to players, tribalism runs rampant and everyone subscribes to the art of the hot take.

That didn’t apply here. Almost everyone that watches NFL football on a regular basis was caught completely off guard with the announcement on Monday the Cardinals were releasing running back Eno Benjamin.

The former standout running back at Arizona State from 2017-19 authored some of the best moments in recent program history while he was in Tempe.

His highlights included becoming the first Sun Devil running back to have 300 carries in a season during his sophomore year in 2018. That same season, Benjamin broke the single-season school record for rush yards with 1,642 yards on the ground, passing Woody Green’s season of 1,565 yards in 1972.

Sun Devils are always measured by how they performed against their rivals from the south. Benjamin was 3-0. He scored three times in the memorable comeback in Tucson in 2018 as Arizona State scored 20 points unanswered in the fourth quarter to win 41-40.

Benjamin was selected in the last round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Cardinals. It was almost too good to be true. A storyline ripped from those half-baked Face of the Franchise plots in Madden games. The local hero drafted by the local pro team. Heck, for those of us who enjoy the cinema, this was the Rod Tidwell story from Jerry Maguire.

Benjamin did not see the field in his rookie season. But last year, Benjamin’s presence continued to percolate into the lineup. He was behind James Conner and Chase Edmonds on the depth chart, but had carved a nice spot for himself as a return man on kickoffs, and after a while, earned the trust of Kliff Kingsbury.

Benjamin finished the season with 118 yards rushing on 34 attempts and his first NFL touchdown in a win against the San Francisco 49ers. With Edmonds out of the fold for this season after signing a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, Benjamin would earn a promotion into the spot behind Conner.

Midway through the season, Conner suffered a rib injury that sidelined him for three games, ushering in Benjamin to the starting role. In those three weeks, Benjamin flourished with 36 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown. He also added 11 catches for 72 yards during his time as RB1.

But the NFL is a capricious machine. As soon as Conner got healthy, Benjamin was kicked down a spot in the pyramid. Reports are there was some disagreement about playing time. Surely Benjamin thought he had proven enough to earn more a role in the offense. But he never saw the field in the Cardinals victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, and was promptly released the next day.

Who knows, maybe this is the best thing for Benjamin. He has certainly proven he can be an NFL running back. At the very least, he’s on the Mt. Rushmore of waiver wire pickups in fantasy football this season for his performance in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints in primetime.

We all know the Cardinals organization isn’t a model for peace and harmony right now. A change of scenery could be good for Benjamin. I imagine he won’t stay on the waivers for long. Maybe the former Sun Devil superstar and fantasy waiver wire hero becomes a contributor off of the real waiver wire soon.